Our Open-Water Winter Stripers

If you are one of those people who never put the boat away, then tow your rig to these waters for hot striped bass action right now! (January 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Perhaps no other fish in Illinois is responsible for more busted tackle than the striped bass. Both pure and hybrid stripers hit baits with a fury and fight like a mad bull trying to escape the lasso. This exciting fish flourishes in many of our state's waters, and they can be caught year 'round.

The striped bass' metabolism stays active in water temperatures much colder than some of our other sportfish. While many of our popular species are difficult to entice into biting during the winter months, the striped bass can still be relied upon for a good day on the water.

Both hybrid and pure striped bass have been stocked into various lakes and rivers throughout Illinois. Some of these waters are difficult to fish during winter because of ice conditions, but some of our power-plant cooling lakes and some rivers offer up some excellent midwinter fishing opportunities.

The following is a look at a few hot waters to target for stripers right now!

MISSISSIPPI RIVER

Winter striped bass fishing can be a bit tricky at times. During cold winters, many of our better striper waters can ice over and be inaccessible. However, the Mississippi River always has open water.

Hybrid striped bass are stocked into the river by the Quad Cities Nuclear Power Station in Cordova. There may not be a huge density of hybrids, but the stocking has helped produce a low-level trophy fishery near the Quad Cities. It's exciting to fish a location knowing the possibility of catching a trophy is realistic.

David Bergerhouse is the assistant professor of research at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and he monitors the river fishery. He said there are a good number of hybrids pulled from the river that are over 10 pounds, and he knows of at least one that was around 13 pounds. "I consider that a trophy fish for the Mississippi River," Bergerhouse said.

The stocking is targeted to provide a hybrid fishery near the Quad Cities that basically includes pools 14, 15 and 16. All stocked fish are released in Pool 14. Most fish appear to stay near the stocking location. A total of 1,018 fish have been reported caught by anglers. Of these reported fish, 80.9 percent were caught in pools 14 through 16, with 59.3 percent being caught in Pool 14 itself.

One could question why a power plant would be stocking fish. The reason is actually quite simple. The fish are stocked as part of an agreement with the state to use the river water as a cooling source for the plant. Initially, the power plant constructed spray canals to use in the cooling process. These did not work out as well as planned, so they were discontinued and water was pulled directly from the river for cooling. Part of the agreement for using the river was to monitor the impact to fish in the river, and to begin stocking.

Both walleyes and striped bass were raised in the spray canals at first. Today, stripers are raised in tanks. The fish are acquired from a private producer in Arkansas in June. They are fed until fall when a number of them are released into the river. The remaining 3,000 to 5,000 fish are held over the winter and will reach nearly 8 to 9 inches by March. These fish are stocked into the river in spring and have a much higher survival rate than those released in the fall.

Most of the stripers caught in the river are found relating to some type of current. Warmwater discharges from area industries are excellent locations in wintertime. Current and boil areas created around the ends of dams and around bridge supports are very good.

More information on fishing the Mississippi River can be obtained by calling the Department of Natural Resources office in Sterling at (815) 625-2968. There is a bait shop located at the upper end of Pool 14 that keeps very close tabs on how and where fish are being caught. R&R Sports is located on the Clinton, Iowa, side of the river. The phone number there is (563) 243-4696, or go to DuckDecoys-Sports.com

CEDAR LAKE

DNR fisheries biologist Shawn Hirst said Cedar Lake in Jackson County is a largely unknown striped bass fishery. While some people are aware of the fishery there and they specifically target stripers, Hirst said most of them are caught incidental to fishing for other species, such as largemouth bass. However, there are some really nice striped bass lurking there waiting to bend some lucky angler's rod.

Some of the stripers caught at Cedar Lake weigh in the high teens or even into the low-20-pound range. There have been at least three fish caught there within the last year that have exceeded 20 pounds. Hirst indicated that one fellow came from out of town and landed a 17-pound striper on his first trip to the Cedar Lake. That's pretty impressive, and a good hint at the fishery that exists there.

According to Hirst, all the striped bass caught on Cedar are pure stripers. There have been reports by anglers of catching hybrids as well, but Hirst has never seen one come from the lake. Some of the larger stripers have some broken lines on them, so identification can be very tricky at times.

Sangchris Lake in Sangamon and Christian counties is generally a great choice for winter striper chasers. There are plenty of fish there in the 9- to 17-pound range. Another great spot is Lake Charleston in Coles County. This 346-acre lake may be small, but it yields some tremendous hybrids.

Catching some big fish there is very possible, but anglers shouldn't expect stripers to top out much beyond 20 pounds. Cedar Lake is not overly deep and does stratify in the summer. The bigger fish are less tolerable of the heat and often succumb to the stresses caused by summer conditions. There was a fish-kill at the lake in July 1998 that led to the death of several striped bass in the 30- to 38-inch range.

The DNR has stocked pure stripers into Cedar Lake for a number of years, but the plantings have been quite sporadic. It was last stocked with 2-inch fish in 2005. Prior stockings were in 2002 and 1997. Striper fingerlings for stocking are limited in supply, and Cedar Lake is "not high on the list," according to Hirst.

However, Hirst is working to change that. He is sampling the lake and hoping to obtain enough information on the fishery to support more stocking by the DNR. Anglers can help by cooperating with any creel surveys performed at the lake or reporting other information that could be useful in assessing the striper fishery.

A couple of the best spots on the lake for stripers are near the two rocky riprapped areas. Stripers can often be seen schooling shad in those areas. Anglers often have success by casting shiny lures and spoons, or other baits resembling shad. Trolling with various artificial baits as well as live shad can be deadly at times. Although not quite as much fun, fishing live shad on the bottom can sometimes be the only way to score in the winter.

Cedar Lake covers 1,750 acres approximately five miles southwest of Carbondale off Route 51 South. There are two boat ramps. Anglers should be aware of the 10-horsepower restriction. Most people use johnboats equipped with 9.9-horsepower motors.

Contact the Shawnee National Forest District office at (618) 687-1731 for more information. Additional area information can be obtained from the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce at (618) 549-2146, or online at www.carbondalechamber.com

OHIO RIVER

Another great winter spot with a good population of both pure and hybrid striped bass is the Ohio River.

Although warmer summers lately have decreased the number of really large fish, a tremendous fishery still exists. Hybrids are frequently caught in the 6- to 8-pound range, with some good fish reaching around 10 pounds. Pure stripers will generally average larger sizes, with some bass hitting 20 pounds or more.

Illinois has stocked stripers into the Ohio River in the past, although it has subsided considerably in recent years. However, Ohio is still stocking hybrids, and Kentucky plants a good crop of both hybrids and pure stripers. The result is an excellent fishery to be enjoyed by all the bordering states.

Anglers can usually get hooked up with river stripers anywhere there's a little current. Illinois DNR fisheries biologist Les Frankland said the Smithland Pool is one of the best spots on the Ohio River for stripers. A bank-to-bank reciprocity gives anglers the opportunity to fish anywhere in the river proper. Of course, this reciprocal agreement does not extend into the embayments and tributaries on the Kentucky side of the river, so have the proper licensing with you.

The tailwaters below the dams on the Ohio River are great places to target striped bass. Below lock and dams No. 52 and No. 53 are prime locations. Other terrific spots include the area near Wabash Island, the mouth of the Wabash River and around any bridge structures -- especially the bridge at Shawneetown.

On the Smithland Pool tailwaters, a great spot is close to the divider dike, or current deflector. There is also a rockpile with a hole nearby that is around 50 feet deep. This hole is on the Kentucky side of the river and can be located with good electronics and a little effort.

Anglers seem to have the most luck on the Ohio River with either live or cut shad. Artificial bait doesn't seem to get used as much, or do as well, because of the turbidity. A lot of catfish anglers using cut bait are surprised to find good-sized stripers at the end of their lines. There are other times when casting artificials such as spoons, spinners, jigs or shad-like baits produce better than any other method.

There is a 30-fish creel limit per day on the Ohio River. No more than four of these fish can be over 15 inches. The 30-fish creel limit applies to not only pure and hybrid stripers, but also to white and yellow bass in aggregate.

Numerous boat launches are all along the river, including public ramps at Shawneetown, Cave-In-Rock, Tower Rock, Elizabethtown, Rosiclare and Golconda. Anglers should keep in mind that the river can be very dangerous, and wintertime conditions can be deadly. Always take weather conditions into consideration, dress appropriately, wear a PFD, and let someone know where your fishing destination is, and your expected time of return. Always obey restricted areas, especially those around the locks and dams.

For more information on fishing the Ohio River, call (618) 842-2179. Other contacts along the river are the Golconda Marina at (618) 683-5875 and the Cave-In-Rock State Park at (618) 289-4325.

CLINTON LAKE

One of the first locations in Illinois to be stocked with striped bass was Clinton Lake, which received an initial stocking of 200,000 hybrids in 1978. Clinton has seen an ebb and flow in the quality of striper fishing it has produced. It became tremendously good for a while, fell on hard times for a short duration, and now has rebounded somewhat. Though it has yet to return to its greatest glory days as a striper fishery, it still produces some excellent action.

Anglers can catch both pure and hybrid striped bass at this 5,000-acre cooling lake in De Witt County. While many of these fish are in the intermediate size range, there are numerous stripers in the 8- to 18-pound range. Some fish over 20 pounds exist, but are caught much less frequently.

Hybrid striped bass are what most anglers typically targeted at Clinton Lake in the past. There were some real whoppers pulled from the lake on a consistent basis. DNR fisheries biologist Mike Garthaus said the lake is now producing hybrid catches of average size in the 7- to 8-pound range. The bigger stripers are fewer and farther between.

Pure striped bass have also been stocked, and some really nice specimens have been caught on Clinton through the years. The highest catch rate for pure stripers was in 2002 and 2003. Anglers still get hooked up regularly, and a stocking of 25,000 pure striped bass in 2005 should begin to pay dividends in the near future.

Wintertime can offer fluctuating conditions for anglers. When the power plant is generating and there is plenty of warmwater outflow, fishing can be terrific. Although the area immediately around the discharge current is restricted, anglers can still fish nearby and find plenty of stripers searching for shad attracted to the warmer water. Shore-bound anglers can also find success nearby, with access from the De Witt bridge.

Other areas that could be good in winter are from the dam to the Mascoutin bridge. There are also some old gravel pits in the lake that produce well at times, as well as some of the riprapped areas. Fishing near an old submerged dam close to edge of the restricted area can also be good. Conditions on the lake will dictate the best fishing methods and locations, but anglers should typically locate the areas with congregated shad, and then expect the stripers to be close by.

A marina is located on the south shoreline of the Salt Creek area and is situated between the towns of Lane and Weldon. Access is from Illinois Route 10 or County Highway 14. Numerous other boat launch areas are located on the lake, and there is also ample bank access.

Clinton Lake is centrally located between the cities of Champaign, Bloomington, Decatur and Lincoln. The Clinton Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (217) 935-3364 for area information. Info on Clinton fishing and lake access can be obtained from the Cl

inton Lake State Recreation Area office at (217) 935-8722, or at www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/ landmgt/parks/R3/CLINTON.htm

OTHER OPTIONS

There are a number of other good locations to find both hybrid and pure striped bass in Illinois.

Weather plays a significant role in fishing accessibility on many of our waters in winter. Ice and rough water can be very dangerous. However, when accessible, anglers can find plenty of action throughout winter from the hard-fighting striped bass.

Sangchris Lake in Sangamon and Christian counties is generally a great choice for winter striper chasers. There are plenty of fish there in the 9- to 17-pound range. Another great spot is Lake Charleston in Coles County. This 346-acre lake may be small, but it yields some tremendous hybrids. Anglers also typically have great winter success for hybrids at the spillway located at Rend Lake in Jefferson and Franklin counties. Winter striper anglers may also want to consider Baldwin Lake, Lake Mattoon or even Crab Orchard Lake.

A great resource for locating and learning about these and other waters is www.ifishillinois.org. The DNR recently completed a report on the status of striped bass and hybrid striped bass in Illinois, and it can be found on the DNR's Website

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So, if you are one of those people who never put the boat away, why not take advantage of our winter open-water fishing for striped bass!

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